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Bulletproof Monk (April 15/03)

Bulletproof Monk marks Chow Yun-Fat's latest attempt in breaking through in North America. But he's once again chosen a project that's far beneath him, presumably in an attempt to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

The film opens in 1943, and two monks are fighting on a precarious rope bridge. They're floating around and hopping on top of things in a manner frighteningly similar to the balletic style of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Turns out, though, that the fight was the younger monk's final test; he's to assume possession of a scroll that, if read aloud, allows the user to control the world. Cut to the present day, and the nameless monk (Chow) is in the big city on the run from some evildoers who want the scroll. He hooks up with a smart and sassy thief named Kar (Seann William Scott), and the two join forces to fight the bad guys.

Not surprisingly, Bulletproof Monk marks the directorial debut of a well-known helmer of music videos, Paul Hunter. Like the majority of filmmakers that got their start in the world of MTV, Hunter seems to be under the impression that an exciting action sequence boils down to quick edits and an always-moving camera. Things like character development and pacing seem to exist only as speed-bumps in Hunter's strategy for the film, which means we're treated to endless scenes where people run and things blow up. There is exactly one effective action sequence in the film, involving Chow and two guns, but that's only because it evokes the films that made Chow famous (John Woo movies like A Better Tomorrow and The Killer). Hunter would've been well advised to watch some of those flicks before getting started on Bulletproof Monk, as they're chock full of exciting moments without ever sacrificing story or characters.

Among Hunter's many transgressions, his complete misuse of Chow certainly ranks right up there. Here's an actor that's been so effortlessly cool in so many films. But here, he's never really given anything to do and, worse than that, he's saddled with some truly horrible dialogue. His character is supposed to be this wise monk with years of studies behind him, and all he does is spout cheesy aphorisms and ask lame questions like "why do hot dogs come in packages of eight, while hot dog buns come in packages of ten?" Faring slightly better is Scott, who manages to create a character that's nothing like Stifler from American Pie. It would appear as though he's got more talent than his body of work currently suggests (which is mostly comprised of Stifler carbon-copies in films like Evolution and Road Trip), and should he find a role in a film that isn't terrible, he might have a real future in front of him.

Among the supporting actors, nobody really makes a dent - though some mention must be given to Victoria Smurfit as Nina, playing an evil Nazi that's pursuing our heroes. How do we know she's an evil Nazi? Because she sneers a lot and wears full-length black leather trenchcoats. This is the sort of thing the film presents us in place of actual character development. Ex-model Jamie King is here, too, as a streetwise rich girl - and though she's clearly trying really hard to come off as tough, she's barely convincing.

And don't even get me started on the poor job Bulletproof Monk does in hiding the fact that it was filmed on the cheap in Toronto (it's supposed to be set in an unnamed American city). A billboard for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) can clearly be seen in the background of one shot, while Toronto's subway system can be glimpsed on multiple occasions. It may not be that big of a deal, but it is indicative of the slapdash way the whole production seems to have been assembled.

out of

About the DVD: MGM has compiled a packed DVD with enough content that even the most ardent Bulletproof Monk fan will likely find it overwhelming. Along with two audio commentaries that are surprisingly interesting, the disc includes a 55-minute (!) documentary on virtually every facet of the film's production. Between the commentary tracks and the doc, there's probably nothing about the film left to learn. Also included are deleted scenes, an alternate ending, an extensive photo gallery, and the film's trailer (along with some bonus MGM trailers). All in all, an exhaustive package.
© David Nusair